PORT HADLOCK — While building shelters together, nobody asked anybody about their politics. There weren’t any “Where do you come from?” questions.
And then, said those volunteers, a village took shape.
On Thursday, the last day of 2020, the workers — Peter Bonyun, Randy Welle, Judy Alexander, Todd Armstrong and their compatriots — stood before simple structures with room for one human to come in from the storm of homelessness.
Scott Rosekrans, pastor of the Community United Methodist Church, joined the group of supporters to bless Peter’s Place, the “community spirit village” on the grassy space beside the church.
The whole thing began only a couple of months ago. Led by original project manager Bonyun, a cadre of volunteers began constructing the wooden shelters in the field beside another house of worship: the Evangelical Bible Church on San Juan Avenue in Port Townsend.
Five were built, brightly painted and given names such as “Sunshine Hut,” “Amethyst Casa” and “Strawberry Cottage.” But even as they worked, the volunteers didn’t know where the shelters would go.
Welle and Bonyun hailed Evangelical Bible’s pastor, James Lyman, for welcoming the workers onto his church’s land — but that was only temporary.
It wasn’t until late November that the crew connected with Rosekrans, who also welcomed them. Thanks to an agreement with the Olympic Community Action Programs, which has a lease on the property beside Rosekrans’ Community United Methodist Church, the village had a place to be. Six more shelters were built on site while one was constructed at Port Hadlock’s Community Boat Project.
Now the 12 diminutive homes, weatherproof and lockable, are ready for people to move in. They’re Spartan, with bed platforms and no plumbing or kitchen; a separate sanitation unit and eventually a community kitchen are to be added to the site.
Bayside Housing Services will coordinate the village as transitional housing for individuals who’ve been temporarily set back — “they just need a break,” said Bayside case manager Mike Schleckser.
“What I’m really excited about is the self-governance,” he said, adding residents will meet weekly to work out issues that arise. The community’s rules will include “no wild parties, no weapons, no smoking inside,” he said.
Peter’s Place is an example of Bayside’s “housing first” philosophy: Give people a safe place to stay and they can begin rebuilding their lives.
Then, “hopefully, they will move up and out,” Schleckser said, adding, “if we had 50 units, they could all be filled tomorrow. And there would still be a need.”
He called upon other faith groups to welcome homes such as these, and say “I’ll take 12. Or if you can’t do 12, take six. If you can’t do six, then three. If not three, then one.”
During Thursday’s blessing ceremony, Rosekrans spoke of Jesus’ teachings about welcoming the stranger. He then read the words of Mahalia Jackson’s “Bless This House”: “Bless this house, O Lord, we pray/ Make it safe by night and day. Bless these walls so firm and stout/ Keeping want and troubles out.”
“Amen!” called a man in the assembly — and then Gary Keister, acting director of Bayside Housing Services, underscored the message of the day.
“We are not at the end,” with this village, he said.
“We are just beginning.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected].